By Weidenbaum, Murray L.
Executive Speeches , Vol. 14, No. 5
It's a very special pleasure to be invited once again to address the National Mining Association's annual convention. I don't know how many of you attended my first speech some years ago. I was the last speaker in the morning and the previous speakers had overrun badly. Even while I was being introduced, people were standing up to leave.
I don't know what came over me, but I grabbed the mike and shouted, "Sit down. I haven't dismissed this class." Most everyone was so startled that they all sat down. I gave the shortest speech on record. But ever since, when I've been invited back, I'm put on the program real early.
I'd like to start off by making three basic points:
1. The United States can boast the most advanced array of service industries in the world.
2. We also contain the world's most productive manufacturing industries.
3. And we possess the largest combination of extractive industries on the globe.
Anyone who does not see the close relationships of these three key sectors--services, industry, and mining--flunks Economics 101. We Americans have created the most powerful economy the world has known because we have built a unique service sector which is based on a unique industrial sector which is based on a unique mining sector. Harm any one of these three vital parts of our nation and you jeopardize the standard of living and future prospects of all our citizens.
Of course, we still have to educate those of our fellow citizens who take our economic success for granted. That's a tall order. It's not written in the stars that we remain number one among the nations. History is littered with examples of powerful countries that rose and fell--Egypt, Carthage, Rome, Byzantium, Spain, Portugal, and so many others.
However, I do not recall any examples of societies that declined because they spent too little on social programs. Ancient Rome is a cogent example to the contrary. Nor did they suffer because of inadequate regulation of business activity. Indeed, the economic stagnation of the Middle Ages reflected an awesome amount of government regulation.
Nor did these nations decline because they opened their society to trade with foreigners. To the contrary, China lost its global supremacy 500 years ago when one misguided emperor abruptly cut off dealing with the "barbarians" from other nations. China has not regained its leading position in the half millennium since.
The concern with maintaining the underlying strength of our economic structure and of our private enterprise system is not a matter of preserving narrow special interests. Rather, it is a matter of vital national security in a world that continues to present serious threats as well as opportunities.
Because we live in an increasingly global environment, let's take a few minutes to look at the role of American business in that ever-changing world economy. Then we'll focus on current and future public policy issues facing our private enterprise system.
After a difficult period of adjustment, the outlook for the global economy has turned optimistic. Asia, Europe, North America, and much of South America are all enjoying a healthy upswing. Perhaps the best news is the least dramatic. In the decade since the end of the Cold War, the business enterprise has emerged as the leading actor on the world stage. The driving force in the global economy has shifted from military superpowers to economic supermarket. The initiative for fundamental economic change now comes more from companies responding to consumer concerns than from capitals reflecting political pressures.
Governments can still mess things up, but the private sector increasingly has the ability to respond, albeit at some cost. Thus when the U.S. government limits work permits for foreign programmers, some companies simply shift the work overseas. When Japan raises its postage rates very sharply, direct mailers send their mailings in bulk to Hong Kong which charges lower postage to mail letters back to Japan. …